By Bobbi Booker
Originally appeared in the The Philadelphia Tribune
Sunday, March 4th, 2007
After receiving the coveted number one New York Times bestselling position for over 13 weeks, Tavis Smiley shopped his “Covenant With Black America” follow-up with several New York publishers, only to be turned down.
“I couldn’t get a single publisher in New York to take this book,” Tavis disclosed exclusively to the Tribune during his impromptu March 1st visit to Philadelphia. “I couldn’t get anyone to take because they thought the first one was a fluke,” he explained, mockingly adding the adage, “Black people don’t read books.”
Well, again, African American readers have proven the publishers wrong with “The Covenant in Action”(Smiley, $10) entering the NY Times list last week at number 14. “They did not ever think we would make another book that would make the list,” Tavis said.
Upon its release during the State of the Black Union 2007 last month, “The Covenant in Action” is a compendium of advice for the African American community to become more civically and politically engaged. “Something is happening where Black readers are concerned,” noted Smiley. “Black America, again, is ready for a thoughtful dialogue about how we advance the community.”
“The Covenant in Action” was developed to continue the inspirational spirit of the “Covenant With Black America” and to empower people to take effective action to achieve “The Covenant goals. The information, tools, and ideas presented in “The Covenant in Action” will enable people to become agents of change in their respective communities and to become partners in a larger Covenant movement.
According to Smiley, proceeds from this recent text will be used to finance the movement. “You can’t sustain a movement without funds,” Tavis explained. “And in the 21st Century, you’ve got to have a 21st Century strategy which means Internet, a website. We had the website up and running, but we couldn’t build upon it, grow it, make it more interactive, or use it as the meeting place for all the covenant activities because it needed funds to make that happen.”
“The Covenant in Action” is organized into three parts: stories about the projects and actions that everyday people have undertaken over the past year that were inspired by the Covenant With Black America; motivational essays from young Black activists who are on the ground impacting their environments; and a toolkit outlining steps you can take to organize, connect, and act.
Many of the hundreds of Philadelphians who came out to meet Smiley during his two area book signings last week said they have already incorporated the “Covenant” messages into their lives. “I think that he’s a trailblazer when it comes to organizing and bringing prominent people together in order to tackle Black issues,” said James Johnson, a 41 year-old poet and prison correctional officer at Graterford prison. “A lot of the things he talks about I implement in speeches or in my poetry.”
As a community leader, Raymond T. Jones, Jr., co founder of Men United for a Better Philadelphia says his group has implement similar innovative approaches to their organizing and community building. “Some of the stuff that we’ve done with Men United has been a quasi ‘Covenant’, if you will,” Jones said. “That’s why we get on those street corners because we have a connection to the plight and the future of Black men. We thought if you’re going to make a change, you’ve got to go where brothers are.”
While in town, Smiley also met with Mayor John F. Street to finalize plans for “Table of Free Voices USA” that will be staged in October in Fairmount Park Philadelphia, with more than 100 leaders for “the world’s largest social discourse” discussing a range of issues and topics with an audience in a Q&A-style setting that will have a Web simulcast. “The concept is basically is to keep The Covenant conversation moving. So, here we are now with a 400 year journey behind us, these presidential elections in front of us.”
Smiley, who hosts an eponymous talk show based out of PBS’ Los Angeles affiliate KCET-TV, will host a forum with Democratic presidential candidates to air June 28 at Howard University in Washington. A similar session with Republican candidates will be held September 27 at Morgan State University in Baltimore. “I get a chance to lead a discussion with all the candidates forcing them in primetime on PBS to address the issues in ‘The Covenant’ that matter to Black people. So the old saying is true that Black folk have no permanent friends; we have no permanent enemies. We only have permanent interests.”
Smiley is heard or seen daily with via the web, television, his nationally syndicated commentary, The Smiley Report or via his political commentary on the nationally syndicated “Tom Joyner Morning Show.”
Smiley’s gift as an impassioned speaker has rallied millions of African Americans to become more politically savvy. Smiley has brought thought provoking discussions, engaging town hall meetings, and exciting consumer expos to communities across the country. Conversations such as “The Black Think Tank,” “Building Inroads to Technology: Bridging the Digital Divide” and the “State of the Black Union” series have reached over one hundred thousand conference attendees and 83 million C-SPAN viewers.
Since last month’s “State of the Black Union” the Virginia state officially passed legislature regretting it role in America’s slave trade—a mere 144 years after the Emancipation Proclamation. “I think it’s an effort—an attempt on their part—and I think that an all-out apology would be very important,” Smiley said. “I wish that Bill Clinton had apologized, when he was president, officially. To express deep regret verses saying, ‘We’re sorry, we were wrong and we apologize’ are two fundamentally different things.”
Last week’s announcement that New York City symbolically banned use of the word nigger today drew a calculated response from Smiley. “My measure opinion is it hasn’t risen yet to the top of my personal agenda for the work that needs to be done,” Smiley said. “That doesn’t mean I condone the use of the word; it just means that investing the energy into that is a fight somebody ought to fight, and I’m glad somebody is.”
And one of the biggest debates mainstream media is engaged in is the definition of “Blackness” when it comes to the presidential candidacy of Sen. Barack Obama, an issue Smiley deftly tackled. “The question as to whether or not Barack is Black enough is a ridiculous and absurd question. We don’t have the luxury in Black America–the luxury or the right, quite frankly–to ask who is or isn’t Black enough. And I don’t know how you define that anyway. So the question for me is where does he stand on the issues that matter to Black people? If Black is the standard, than (Hilary Clinton) and any of the other candidates aren’t Black enough. It’s not about whether you’re Black enough or white enough; it’s whether you are right on the issue that matter to Black people. The bottom line is this: it’s not about Black or white as much as it is about wrong and right. Is Barack right or wrong on the issues that. Once he gets a chance to be heard on those issue, than we can make an informed decision.”
Smiley’s goal to share the inspirational spirit of the “Covenant” continues to resonate with Black America. “Tavis is just very inspirational,” said South Philadelphia resident Katrina Daws, 40. “I think he provides our people speech. He really provides us with a lot of information and I think that’s very important in the African American community.”
For more information, go http://www.covenantwithblackamerica.com